Spring Training Game Thread: Rivalry, Kinda

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s that time of the year again. Time for the Yankees and Red Sox to renew their rivalry. Except this afternoon’s Spring Training game will feature a lot of minor league players and guys who otherwise won’t play any kind of role in the regular season. So yeah, this is Yankees-Red Sox. But only kinda.

The Sawx are up from Fort Myers and, as expected, they didn’t bring many regulars. Here’s their lineup for the afternoon. No Hanley Ramirez, no Pablo Sandoval, no David Ortiz, no Dustin Pedroia. We’ll see plenty of those guys during the regular season, don’t worry. Enjoy an afternoon of Brock Holt and Christian Vazquez.

Today’s reason to watch: A-Rod is making his second start at third base. He wasn’t tested much the first time he played the hot corner — he did make one real nice play — so we’re still waiting to see how playable he is in the field. It would be nice if he could be a legitimate backup third baseman this year. Also, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are scheduled to pitch, and Greg Bird is coming off the bench. Bird is 5-for-10 with three doubles, a homer, and one strikeout this spring. That’ll do.

Here is this afternoon’s starting lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 3B Alex Rodriguez
  6. 1B Garrett Jones
  7. 2B Jose Pirela
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Cito Culver
    LHP Chris Capuano

Available Position Players: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cole Figueroa, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Slade Heathcott, CF Mason Williams, RF Chris Young, and DH Tyler Austin are the day’s second string off the bench. C Trent Garrison, C Francisco Arcia, C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Kyle Roller, IF Nick Noonan, OF Aaron Judge, OF Jake Cave, and OF Ramon Flores are the extra players.

Available Pitchers: RHP Bryan Mitchell, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Dellin Betances, RHP Jared Burton, LHP Tyler Webb, and RHP Nick Rumbelow are all listed as scheduled to pitch. RHP Chris Martin and RHP Diego Moreno are the extra arms.

It’s pretty hot in Tampa, with temperatures expected to be in the upper-80s/low-90s this afternoon. There are a few clouds in the sky but no rain in the forecast. This afternoon’s game is scheduled to begin a bit after 1pm ET and you can watch live on YES, MLB Network, and MLB.tv. The game will be blacked out on MLB Network — but not MLB.tv! — in the New York area, however. I’m honestly surprised ESPN isn’t in town for this game. It’s Yanks-Sox and A-Rod is playing. Anyway, enjoy the game folks.

Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, and an alternate offseason universe

(Presswire)
Heyward and Simmons in pinstripes? The Yankees tried. (Presswire)

We get a fair amount of tips here at RAB. Well, we get a lot of emails that claim to be tips. Let’s put it that way. The vast majority of them turn out to be false — which is why we never post them, even the totally believable ones — but every so often one of ’em is true. When that happens my feeling is more “hey, neat” than “damn we should have posted that!”

A few weeks back we were tipped off that the Yankees had been discussing a massive trade with the Braves that would have brought Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons to New York. (I’m pretty sure we got the tip after Heyward was traded to the Cardinals.) Apparently this was one of those rare true tips. Andy Martino reported on the trade talks earlier this week:

According to two major league sources, the Yankees and Atlanta Braves were talking more than we knew over the winter, in addition to swapping Manny Banuelos and David Carpenter. The Yanks were interested in what would have been a blockbuster acquisition of outfielder Jason Heyward and shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

On Monday, Cashman would not confirm his offseason interest — it is rare for a GM to publicly discuss players belonging to other teams — but here is what we were able to gather elsewhere: Before the Yanks acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius, they asked Atlanta about Heyward and Simmons. It is not clear what the Braves would have wanted in return, and it is possible that talks never progressed to the concrete offer phase.

Heyward was traded to St. Louis on November 17th, so it was very early in the offseason. It was basically the first huge move of the winter. The Yankees were talking to the Braves about the potential Heyward/Simmons deal very early in the offseason, long before they traded for Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi, signed Andrew Miller, re-signed Chase Headley, the whole nine.

On the surface this rumor makes total sense. The Yankees prioritized defense this winter and Heyward and Simmons are the best defensive right fielder and best defensive shortstop in baseball, respectively. They also focused on getting younger, and both Heyward and Simmons are only 25. Heyward also fits their model offensive profile — left-handed and patient will pull power. Simmons isn’t much of a hitter but they wanted his glove.

The Braves made it very clear they were seeking young high-end pitching early this offseason — Heyward (and Jordan Walden) was traded for Shelby Miller and a pitching prospect — and I’m guessing that’s where things fell apart. The Yankees don’t have enough young pitching to trade unless they were willing to part with Michael Pineda, and even his trade value is hurt by his injury problems. Shane Greene? Luis Severino? Bryan Mitchell? Manny Banuelos (who was traded to the Braves in January)? None of those guys have Shelby’s pedigree.

Anyway, as fun as this potential blockbuster is, I don’t want to focus too much on the rumor itself. Instead I want to discuss how the offseason would have changed had the Yankees managed to swing a deal for Heyward and Simmons. It’s hard to do that without knowing who would have gone to the Braves in the trade, so we’re going to have to make assumptions. Our tipster said the deal was built around prospects, so I’m going to say the package included:

  • Greene: Atlanta wanted MLB ready pitching based on the Miller (and later Mike Foltynewicz) pickup and the Yankees traded Greene for Gregorius, so I assume they were willing to trade him for Simmons too.
  • Severino: Again, the Braves wanted young high-end pitching, and Severino is not only New York’s top pitching prospect, he’s one of the best in the game. You don’t get Heyward and Simmons without trading someone like this.
  • Banuelos: He was eventually traded to the Braves, so clearly they had interest and clearly the Yankees were open to moving him. And, again, Atlanta wanted pitching.
  • Multiple Prospects: I’m going to say the rest of the trade package was filled out by prospects who aren’t expected to help the Yankees at the MLB level this year. Guys like Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Eric Jagielo, Luis Torrens, so on. I’m not saying all those guys would go in the deal. I’m just assuming the rest of the package included prospects like them who wouldn’t change the 2015 roster outlook.

That sound good? If it doesn’t, too bad. It’s my blog and we’re going to roll with this. Had the trade gone down as presented above, the Yankees would have been sitting on this projected 25-man roster in early-November:

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Brian McCann 1B Mark Teixeira LF Brett Gardner Masahiro Tanaka Dellin Betances
2B ? CF Jacoby Ellsbury Michael Pineda Adam Warren
DH SS Simmons RF Heyward CC Sabathia Shawn Kelley
Carlos Beltran 3B Martin Prado David Phelps Justin Wilson
? Esmil Rogers
BENCH DISABLED LIST David Huff
C John Ryan Murphy OF Chris Young Ivan Nova Preston Claiborne
IF Brendan Ryan DH A-Rod

The Yankees made a couple moves this winter that I think they would have made even with the Heyward/Simmons blockbuster. Re-signing Young, for example. He re-signed two weeks before Heyward was traded to the Cardinals and I think the Yankees would have done that anyway, especially since they would have had an all-left-handed hitting outfield with Heyward. Francisco Cervelli was traded for Wilson five days before the Heyward trade, and again, I think that’s a deal that happens anyway. That move was about bolstering the bullpen and clearing a spot for Murphy more than anything.

Heyward and Simmons are relatively cheap but they do cost real money — Heyward will earn $7.8M in 2015 and Simmons will earn $3M as part of the extension that will pay him $56M through 2020. That’s $10.8M between the two of them and that’s not nothing. That’s more than the Yankees will pay Andrew Miller ($9M) and a little less than they’ll pay Headley ($13M) in 2015. Perhaps Hal Steinbrenner would okay an increased payroll because Heyward and Simmons are so young, but I have no reason to assume that. The money has to be balanced out somewhere.

Since the bullpen was such a focal point, my hunch is the Heyward/Simmons money means no Headley, not no Miller. No Headley means Prado plays third base — Alex Rodriguez playing third ain’t happening — and Prado playing third base means no Eovaldi for the rotation and no Domingo German to replenish the minor league prospect pipeline. Prado was traded to the Marlins but the Yankees didn’t dump his $11M salary — the money in the trade was structured so that it was a wash. That’s why the Yankees are sending Miami $3M this year and $3M next. It’s not like trading Prado clears money for Headley and boom, they still have Headley and Eovaldi. Had the Yankees swung the Prado trade even after Heyward/Simmons, they’d have Eovaldi, no third baseman, and basically the same payroll situation.

Without the Prado/Eovaldi trade, the Yankees would still have Phelps, who essentially takes Eovaldi’s rotation spot. The club would still need a fifth starter and re-signing Chris Capuano strikes me as a move the Yankees would still make even after the Heyward/Simmons deal. Maybe it’s not Capuano himself, but someone like him on a one-year, $5M-ish contract. Aaron Harang or Kyle Kendrick. Whoever. A veteran fifth starter type on a one-year contract to fill out the rotation. Perhaps they would have made a more aggressive play for Brett Anderson — or Justin Masterson, though he has Red Sox roots — but topping the $10M he got from the Dodgers seems really unlikely. I’m not sure any other team would have offered him that. The Yankees still would have needed a veteran back-end guy like Capuano.

The second base situation is somewhat interesting because the Yankees would be in the same spot as they were in real life after Prado was traded for Eovaldi, meaning they wouldn’t have had a true big league second baseman, just some prospects in Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela. (Assuming they weren’t traded for Heyward/Simmons!) Because the Yankees went out and re-signed Stephen Drew on the cheap even with Refsnyder and Pirela around, I think they would have done it again with Heyward/Simmons. It’s a boring answer but I honestly think that’s what happens. They’ve been after Drew for a few years now.

Huff was non-tendered and Claiborne was lost on waivers, but those are minor moves. (Remember, Claiborne was cut to make room for Gonzalez Germen, who was then cut for Chris Martin.) The Yankees were looking to upgrade those spots anyway, and ultimately they did with David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve. And that’s where it gets complicated, because those two came over from the Braves for Banuelos in January. Would they have been part of the Heyward/Simmons blockbuster? Maybe! I don’t think we can assume that though. The hypothetical Heyward/Simmons trade happened in early-November and the actual Banuelos trade happened in early-January. Lots can change in two months.

Instead, I think the Yankees would have looked to bolster their bullpen with smaller moves. Waivers claims and the like. Maybe they would have found a way to keep Claiborne and Germen and Martin, for example. (Who knows what the 40-man roster would have looked like after Heyward/Simmons.) And, also, no Carpenter likely means either Kelley isn’t traded or the Yankees find a similarly priced pitcher in free agency, say John Axford or Burke Badenhop or (gasp!) Joba Chamberlain. Miller and Wilson were the big reliever moves this winter. I think no Carpenter/Shreve means more scrap-heaping, not another trade for bonafide big leaguers.

The bench is pretty straight forward thanks to Young, Murphy, and Ryan. The A-Rod/Beltran dynamic at DH looks problematic but would probably take care of itself via injury — neither Beltran nor A-Rod is especially durable at this point of their careers — before long. Until then, there would probably be a DH rotation, a rotation that includes guys like McCann, Teixeira, and Prado too. The Yankees and Joe Girardi have made it clear they prefer a DH rotation to have one set DH. Basically all non-Red Sox AL teams are like they now.

Alright, so after all those hypothetical moves, the 25-man roster coming into Spring Training would look something like this in the wake of the Heyward/Simmons blockbuster:

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
McCann 1B Teixeira LF Gardner Tanaka Betances
2B Drew CF Ellsbury Pineda Miller
DH SS Simmons RF Heyward Sabathia Warren
A-Rod/Beltran 3B Prado Phelps Kelley
Capuano Wilson
BENCH DISABLED LIST Rogers
C Murphy OF Young Nova Claiborne, Etc.
IF Ryan A-Rod/Beltran

Now for the twist ending: I’d rather have the current Yankees than the Heyward/Simmons Yankees, especially since the Heyward/Simmons Yankees would have a gutted farm system. Heyward is a terrific player, but he’s going to be a free agent after the season. The Yankees would only be acquiring one year of him. Any extension will cost free agent dollars too, otherwise there’s no reason for him to sign it. Simmons is better than Gregorius, but yeah, give me Headley and Eovaldi over Prado and Phelps all day, every day.

The farm system angle is very important. The Yankees wouldn’t just be trading Severino, they’d be trading several other prospects as well. Good ones too. Maybe Judge, maybe Bird, maybe Jacob Lindgren. Maybe all three. Guys like Heyward and Simmons don’t come cheap. The Yankees would be better in right field (for a year) and better at shortstop with potentially weaker options at third base (Headley vs. Prado), in the rotation (Eovaldi vs. Phelps), in the bullpen (Carpenter/Shreve vs. Claiborne, etc.), and have fewer top prospects to trade to fill other needs.

I assume that because the Yankees were looking to trade for Heyward, they were also willing to extend him at a handsome price. They could still have him at that handsome price after the season in real life though. That’s the thing. Again, he fits what they look for these days — young, great defense, lefty power and patience — and he’ll be a free agent in a few months. Maybe the Cardinals extend him first. That’s possible. More possible than Heyward saying “I’m so damn close to free agency, I owe it to myself to wait until after the season to see what the market has to offer me at age 26?” Nah.

The Heyward/Simmons trade sure would have qualified as a blockbuster — it would have been the biggest Yankees trade since what, A-Rod? — and man it would have been fun to analyze and dissect from every angle. I’m just not convinced the trade and a potential chain of events afterward would have automatically resulted in a better Yankees team going forward.

Open Thread: March 10th Camp Notes

A skeleton crew of Yankees lost to the Orioles this afternoon by the score of 3-1. Gary Sanchez‘s ninth inning dinger accounted for their only run. Chase Headley was the star offensively, going 3-for-3 with a booming double off the right field wall. Didi Gregorius, Chris Young, John Ryan Murphy, Stephen Drew, and Aaron Judge all went 0-for-3 and Mark Teixeira went 1-for-2 with a walk. That about sums up the offense.

Chase Whitley threw three scoreless innings but they weren’t pretty — he allowed two hits, walked three, and struck out one. The defense bailed him out a bit. Esmil Rogers struck out two in one inning of work and looked pretty sharp. He’s scheduled to start Saturday’s game, hence the short outing. Branden Pinder allowed two runs on four hits in his inning and Chasen Shreve allowed a solo homer in his otherwise uneventful inning. Jacob Lindgren struck out two in a dominant inning of work. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest from Tampa:

  • Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia, Vicente Campos, Adam Warren, and Wilking Rodriguez threw bullpens this morning. Sabathia is scheduled for a simulated game Thursday. Here’s more on that. Nova will begin throwing breaking balls next week as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. [Chad Jennings]
  • Andrew Bailey threw 40 pitches today — 20 in the bullpen and 20 in live batting practice — and is scheduled to throw a 25-pitch simulated game this weekend. The next step after that should be a real Grapefruit League game. [Lou DiPietro]
  • Garrett Jones was scratched from today’s trip to play the O’s with either the flu or food poisoning. Something unpleasant. Brendan Ryan (mid-back sprain) is scheduled to resume light baseball activities tomorrow. Nick Noonan (stiff neck) hopes to resume working out tomorrow. [Bryan Hoch, Brendan Kuty]
  • In case you’re still holding out hope Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela will be the starting second basemen, Joe Girardi left no doubt today that Stephen Drew is the guy. “Our plan is it for it to be Stephen. We signed him to be our second baseman,” said the skipper. [Andrew Marchand]
  • Some news from elsewhere in the AL East: Blue Jays righty Marcus Stroman suffered a torn ACL in a fielding drill and will miss the season, the team announced. Stroman had a 3.65 ERA (2.84 FIP) in in 130.2 innings last year and a few projection systems had him as the AL East’s best starter in 2015. Big blow for Toronto.

Here is tonight’s open thread. This afternoon’s game against the Orioles will be replayed on MLB Network but not until 9am ET tomorrow morning. All five local hockey and basketball teams are in action — the Rangers and Islanders are meeting for the final time (in the regular season) at Nassau Coliseum and it’s a pretty important game too — and there’s one college hoops game on the schedule as well. Talk about whatever right here.

CC Sabathia scheduled for simulated game on Thursday, setting up Opening Day options for Joe Girardi

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier this morning, CC Sabathia told reporters he is scheduled to throw a 30-pitch simulated game on Thursday, which will be his first action in any kind of game situation since last May. He threw live batting practice over the weekend and reiterated that he feels great following knee surgery. Now he just needs to get stretched out and develop feel for his pitches before the start of the regular season.

Sabathia is pitching in a simulated game instead of the day’s actual Grapefruit League game for two reasons. One, the Yankees can better control the simulated game. They can end innings if they start to go too long, stuff like that. Two, Masahiro Tanaka is already scheduled to pitch and make his Spring Training debut that day, and I doubt the Yankees want to have either guy come out of the bullpen for their first spring appearance.

Clearly the most important thing is Sabathia and Tanaka getting their work in, and the Yankees have a plan to do that. More interestingly though, Thursday’s outings line up both guys to start Opening Day, assuming they stay on a normal five-day schedule the rest of spring. By having them both lined up to start Opening Day, Joe Girardi can make the call later in camp based on who’s healthy, who’s throwing the best, stuff like that. It gives him some options.

The Opening Day start doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but it is a neat little honor. Sabathia would be the first Yankees pitcher ever to start seven straight Opening Days — Mel Stottlemyre, Ron Guidry, and Whitey Ford all started seven Opening Days in pinstripes but not consecutively — and it would be his 12th Opening Day start overall, which would be the seventh most in history. That’s pretty neat. Tanaka, obviously, would be making his first Opening Day start for the Yankees.

Hopefully Girardi gets to actually make this decision and Tanaka’s elbow or Sabathia’s knee doesn’t make it for him. I know a lot of people consider the Opening Day starter a big deal and all that, but it really isn’t. It’s just one of 162 games. If Girardi goes with Sabathia because he’s the “been there, done that” veteran, fine. If he goes with Tanaka because he’s the best pitcher on the team (arguably!), that’s cool too. Both being healthy is by far the most important thing here.

The Hope for a Healthy and Productive Carlos Beltran [2015 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

One year into his three-year contract, the Carlos Beltran signing looks like the position player version of the Randy Johnson trade: the Yankees got the right player, just nine years too late. Beltran’s first season in pinstripes was a disappointment for several reasons, mostly because he didn’t hit (95 wRC+) and was banged up just about all season. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

Beltran, who will turn 38 in April, had offseason surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow after it hampered him from mid-May through the end of the season. He wanted to play through it and the Yankees were on board since the pain could be managed and the injury couldn’t get any worse, but in hindsight it was a mistake. Brian Cashman admitted as much after the season. Beltran should have just had surgery in May and been done with it.

Year two of Beltran’s contract offers the hope that, with the bone spur out of the picture, Beltran will get back to being productive and an asset in the middle of the order. After all, he hit .296/.339/.491 (131 wRC+) with 24 homers as recently as 2013. It’s not like you have to squint your eyes and look back five years for the last time he was an impact hitter. Beltran’s bat is a big factor for the 2015 Yankees.

Yankees Need: Damage Against Righties

Beltran is a switch-hitter and the vast majority of pitchers are right-handed — the batters faced split has sat around 75/25 in favor of righties the last few years — so the Yankee are going to count on him to do serious damage against them. I don’t just mean hold his own, I mean be a force. A middle of the order guy, a number three or four type hitter, hit for both average and power against northpaws. That kind of hitter. At this point of his career Beltran’s only redeeming quality is his bat. The Yankees need him to wreck righties.

Beltran Can: Still Produce Against Righties

Even while battling the elbow issue last year, Beltran still managed to hit .254/.331/.446 (118 wRC+) with 12 of his 15 home runs against righties. He also posted better than average strikeout (16.2%) and walk (9.5%) rates against righties, which is in line with his career numbers overall. Beltran didn’t put up 2013 numbers against righties (143 wRC+) but he was able to contribute from the left side of the plate even with the bone spur in his elbow.

The left side is Beltran’s more productive side and has been for years. (He’s a natural right-handed hitter, weirdly.) Last year he really seemed to struggle with inside pitches as a lefty batter and the data backs it up. Here are Beltran’s strike zone heat maps as a left-handed batter from 2012 through 2014 in terms of runs produced above average per 100 pitches (via FanGraphs):

Carlos Beltran Heat Maps-001The brighter the red, the more damage Beltran did against pitches in that particular location. The brighter the blue, the worse he did. Notice how the inner half of the plate (the right side of the heat maps) is nice and red in 2012 and 2013 before turning blue in 2014. He was five or six runs (per 100 pitches) above-average in certain inside spots in 2013 before dropping to two or three runs below-average in 2014. That’s a huge, huge swing from one year to the next.

Beltran’s bone spur was in his right elbow, his lead elbow as a left-handed hitter. That obviously could have played a major role in his sudden inability to hit inside pitches. Beltran simply might not have had the range of motion necessary — or at least have the necessary range of motion without discomfort — to hit those pitches. Or it could just be that he’s a soon-to-be 38-year-old player who is losing bat speed by the day and is no longer able to get around on inside pitches. We can’t rule that out either.

Now that the bone spur is out of his elbow, there’s at least some hope Beltran will better be able to handle inside pitches and thus improve his production against righties this coming season. He might not get back to where he was in 2013 or his overall 2011-13 level (139 wRC+), but something more than last year would be nice.

Yankees Need: Production Against Lefties

The Yankees are projected to have four right-handed hitters on the Opening Day roster: Alex Rodriguez, Chris Young, John Ryan Murphy, and Brendan Ryan. Only one of them figures to be in the regular starting lineup. That is not a lot of offensive firepower from that side of the plate, so the switch-hitters like Beltran (and Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley) are going to have to help pick up the slack. The AL East isn’t what it once was, the days of seeing David Price or Jon Lester every other weekend are over, but there still needs to be lineup balance and the ability to handle southpaws.

Beltran Can: Hopefully Halt The Decline Against Lefties

At this point Beltran is a switch-hitter in name only. The right side has been his weaker side of the plate for a few years running now and it’s only getting worse. Across the board his AVG, OBP, SLG, ISO, and wRC+ against lefties have been trending in the wrong direction since 2010. (His walk and strikeout rates have been all over the place.) Check it out:

AVG OBP SLG ISO wRC+ K% BB%
2010 .292 .364 .646 .354 165 20.0% 9.1%
2011 .286 .338 .585 .299 153 17.5% 6.9%
2012 .276 .329 .538 .262 129 22.4% 7.5%
2013 .252 .281 .448 .196 100 15.2% 4.1%
2014 .196 .242 .322 .126 50 20.9% 5.9%

Yikes. Yes, the “bone spur in the elbow” caveat applies to last season, but leave 2014 out of it and that’s still a really scary trend. Even with a healthy elbow, why would I expect Beltran to be even an average hitter against left-handers this coming season? Hopefully he’ll rebound with a healthy elbow and top last year’s production, but I feel like it’ll take some BABIP luck to get back to a 100 wRC+ in 2015.

I doubt it’ll happen, but there’s an argument to made the Yankees are best off platooning Beltran with Young this summer. Or at the very least batting Beltran lower in the order against southpaws.

Yankees Need: “Just Don’t Mess Up Too Bad” Defense

In his prime, Beltran was an unreal center fielder with great range, tremendous reads, and a strong arm to back it all up. He wasn’t Andruw Jones but he was the next best thing. He was that good defensively. It’s been a very long time since Beltran was a plus defender though. You have to go back to his days with the Mets, basically. The Yankees are not unrealistic. They’ll again shade Jacoby Ellsbury towards right-center to help compensate for Beltran’s lack of range — having Brett Gardner in left allows that — and hope Beltran can simply make all the play he’s supposed to make. Right field in Yankee Stadium is relatively small. There’s not much ground to cover out there.

Beltran Can: Stand In Right Field For A Few Innings

Beltran has consistently rated as a below-average right fielder by the various defensive stats the last few years and that definitely matches up with the eye test. It’s not just a lack of range brought on by age and years of knee problems, there was was straight up laziness at times last year. I’m sure you remember Beltran getting caught standing around on this play last year:

The Yankees made a point of improving their defense this offseason and there’s no argument to be made that lifting Beltran for a defensive replacement (Young) in the late innings of a close game is not a smart move. Especially if the Yankees are leading. If they’re down a run and want to try to get Beltran an extra at-bat, fine. But if the lead is small and it’s the sixth or seventh inning, Beltran has no business playing the field. He’s that much of a liability. This is one aspect of his game that getting over the bone spur won’t improve. Immobility is immobility.

Spring Training Game Thread: Sixth Starter Competition Continues

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The competition for the sixth starter’s spot continues today. Well, consider it jockeying for position on the depth chart more than an outright competition. Both Chase Whitley and Esmil Rogers are scheduled to pitch today, and they’re in the extra starter race alongside Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell, most notably. All of those guys want to put themselves in position to be the first guy thrust into the rotation when a sixth starter is inevitably needed.

The Yankees are making the hour or so trip down to Sarasota to play the Orioles this afternoon. New York has won five of their last six Grapefruit League games, you know. (Woo!) The O’s are playing eight-ninths of their projected Opening Day lineup this afternoon — here’s their lineup card — though starting catcher Matt Wieters is in at DH. He’s coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Today’s reason to watch: Following his last start, Rogers told reporters he spoke to Mariano Rivera about the importance of location, and reportedly he hit his spots very well in his first spring outing. Let’s see if that carries over. Rogers has good stuff but not good command. Even average command would be a big help for him going forward. A healthy dose of young bullpen prospects are scheduled to follow Whitley/Rogers as well. Oh, and Aaron Judge is playing. That’s always fun.

Here is this afternoon’s starting lineup:

  1. SS Didi Gregorius
  2. CF Chris Young
  3. 3B Chase Headley
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C John Ryan Murphy
  6. DH Jose Pirela
  7. 2B Stephen Drew
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. LF Ramon Flores
    RHP Chase Whitley

Available Position Players: C Gary Sanchez, 1B Kyle Roller, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cole Figueroa, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Jake Cave, CF Mason Williams, and RF Slade Heathcott will come off the bench as the second string. C Trent Garrison, C Eddy Rodriguez, and SS Cito Culver drew the short straws and had to make the trip even though they aren’t scheduled to play.

Available Pitchers: LHP Chasen Shreve, RHP Jose Ramirez, LHP Jacob Lindgren, RHP Branden Pinder, and RHP Nick Goody are all listed as scheduled to pitch after Whitley and Rogers. RHP Nick Rumbelow, LHP James Pazos, and RHP Danny Burawa are the extra arms.

The spring of great weather continues — it’s sunny with only a few clouds in Sarasota and the temperature is up in the mid-to-high-80s. This afternoon’s game is set to begin just after 1pm ET, and, if you’re in the Baltimore area, you can watch on MASN. If not, you’re stuck watching on MLB.tv. (There are no MLB.tv blackouts in the Yankees’ market.) The game will be replayed on MLB Network later tonight tomorrow morning. Enjoy.

Brendan Ryan’s injury is slowly opening the door for Jose Pirela

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last spring Brendan Ryan went down with a combo neck/back injury early in Spring Training, and the injury lingered into the regular season. The injury allowed Dean Anna to make the Opening Day roster — Yangervis Solarte straight up beat out Eduardo Nunez for his roster spot, remember, Anna was the one who benefited from Ryan’s injury — and he remained with the Yankees until Ryan returned in mid-May.

Ryan is once again dealing with a back problem this spring, this time a mid-back sprain he suffered lifting weights about ten days ago. He was initially expected to miss five days and get into games late last week. That hasn’t happened. Ryan felt some renewed soreness last week and had to be shut down. He’s not expected to resume light baseball workouts until later this week, possibly tomorrow if he progresses well.

“Now it feels kind of like Groundhog spring,” said Ryan to Chad Jennings over the weekend. Ryan also mentioned fielding drills are not a problem right now, it’s swinging a bat that is giving him issues. “The timing of this whole thing is horrible … I don’t want to get into the middle of March having not progressed very much … If I get three weeks in, I’ll feel good about that.”

There is still plenty of Spring Training left — Opening Day is four weeks from yesterday — and Ryan could always go over to minor league camp to get nine or ten at-bats a day to speed up his preparation for the season, but at some point soon he’s going to have to make real progress and get over this back injury. It keeps lingering and lingering. It has to stop lingering before he can do anything.

Much like last year, Ryan’s injury is slowly opening the door for a younger player to crack the Opening Day roster. Last year it was Anna, this year it’s utility man Jose Pirela, who is ahead of Rob Refsnyder on the depth chart because he’s more versatile and ahead of Cole Figueroa, Nick Noonan, and Jonathan Galvez because he’s already on the 40-man roster. It hasn’t hurt that Pirela has gone 5-for-11 (.455) with a double and a triple early in Grapefruit League play either. Fringe roster candidates have to hit in camp to make the team.

The 25-year-old Pirela was up late last season and went 8-for-24 (.333) with a double and two triples in his MLB cameo after hitting .305/.351/.441 (117 wRC+) with ten homers, 21 doubles, eleven triples, and 15 steals (in 22 attempts) in 130 games for Triple-A Scranton. He’s versatile too, having played every position other than pitcher, catcher, and third base for the RailRiders last summer. Pirela’s an adequate at best defender — he’s already made one error this spring and also misplayed a ground ball into an infield single — but that’ll work for a role player.

“We’re going to move (Pirela) around because that flexibility is nice to have,” said Joe Girardi to Jennings. “In the limited time that he was up last year, he did a really good job for us. And you could put him in the outfield as well. I don’t know how much we’ll put him in the outfield in spring, but I’m comfortable putting him out there anywhere. You never know how things are going to shake out in camp.”

The Yankees added Pirela to the 40-man roster last September — he joined the team after Martin Prado went down with his appendectomy — an indication they were planning to do so after the season to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent. (Pirela became a minor league free agent after 2013 but re-signed with New York.) He’s never been a top prospect, he’s a guy who’s had to hit his way onto the map, and he’s going to have to keep hitting to stay there. Players like this — think Andy Phillips — get an opportunity, but not necessarily a long one. They have to capitalize in a hurry, like Solarte last year.

“Whether someone is hurt or not, that isn’t something that I consider,” said Pirela to Jennings. “No one wants a teammate to ever be hurt, especially starting the season. I have to focus on myself, competing with myself … I’m very thankful to the Yankees for this opportunity. They’ve given me plenty of opportunities. I just want to continue doing my job and I just hope to keep getting a chance to show what I can do.”

Ryan’s not a great (or even good) player but his ability to play shortstop has real value. Pirela hasn’t played shortstop regularly since 2011 because he’s just not good enough defensively. He’s someone the Yankees could use at short for a few innings in an emergency. That’s really it. Ryan is someone they could run out there at short for a week if necessary. The presence of Stephen Drew means the Yankees don’t necessarily need the 25th man on the roster to be able to play short though. If Didi Gregorius were to get hurt, Drew could slide over to short and Pirela could play second.

The Yankees owe Ryan a decent amount of money ($2M isn’t nothing) and cutting a legitimate shortstop loose in favor of a potential utility guy just because he’s younger and homegrown doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, so Pirela’s chances of making the Opening Day roster are tied directly to Ryan’s back injury. If Ryan stays hurt, Pirela’s chances of making the team will continue to go up. But if Ryan gets back on the field by, say, this weekend, he should be ready in time for the season. Like it or not, Ryan has the inside track for a bench job, but the back injury means the door has started to crack open for Pirela.